The Houston Texans were 4-12 in the 2017 regular season. Heading into 2018, the Texans are in the top ten to win the Super Bowl on most odds boards, and at the Mirage's sports book, there were only six teams with shorter odds.
Most of the time, the two sentences in the above paragraph would have a hard time existing together with both being true, but both are indeed true statements. A team that experienced a colossal train wreck in 2017 is among the upper echelon of favorites in 2018. The glue connecting these two conditions, allowing both to exist in truth, is the massive number of Texan players returning from injured reserve in 2018.
No team placed more players on the injured list than the Texans in 2017, and getting those players back, particularly Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt, should provide a huge boost. By my count, there are thirteen players who finished last season on injured reserve that are expected to play a role on the 2018 Texans.
Let's go through the list and I will give my "Fear Factor" score for each one. The "Fear Factor" is a score where, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not scared at all and 10 being nuclear war-level frightened), I assess how scared I am that a player will not return to form from their injury the previous season. The score is based on a combination of the severity of the injury and the significance of the player.
Let's do this....
CHRISTIAN COVINGTON, DE (torn biceps)
Covington was starting to come into his own a little bit when he tore a biceps muscle in the Seattle game in Week 8. Hell, at that point with no J.J. Watt, Covington was a necessary body. (Of course, with Deshaun Watson going out four days later, it didn't really matter.) Covington is going into a contract year — wow, that went by fast! — and probably starts opposite Watt at defensive end. He should be 100 percent.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 2.33
BRUCE ELLINGTON, WR (hamstring strain)
Ellington was a nice find as a street free agent, and as of right now, he is the team's third best wide receiver. He went out in December with a hamstring injury and never came back. The Texans signed Ellington to a one year deal a couple weeks ago, and he should be a rotation guy for them, but injuries continually derail him.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 3.51
TYLER ERVIN, RB (torn patellar tendon)
Eric can't get his career out of first gear, and a patellar tendon injury to a speed guy is not optimal. Ervin's almost been forgotten in offseason depth chart discussions this offseason, but a healthy, focused Ervin could find a role on this team.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 4.71
D'ONTA FOREMAN, RB (torn Achilles tendon)
If you're looking for one play to symbolize the Texans' 2017 season, it'd probably be Foreman getting loose for a long touchdown, and shredding his Achilles as he crossed the goal line. When the Texans drafted Foreman, I said he'd be the starting tailback in the 2018 opener. An Achilles makes that a precarious prediction on which to cash in.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 7,09
RYAN GRIFFIN, TE (concussion)
Maybe we should have seen 2017's spate of injuries coming when ALL THREE tight ends were concussed in Week 1 against Jacksonville. C.J. Fiedorowicz ultimately had to retire because of concussion issues, leaving Griffin, who ended the season on IR with a concussion, as the starter. Any concussion that ends a season should be cause for future concern.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 7.83
NICK MARTIN, C (ankle)
Martin's ankle injury — his second serious one in two seasons — kind of snuck under the radar because it happened in the final two weeks of the season, when everyone in Houston was more focused on (a) the holidays, (b) the Rockets, (c) still celebrating the Astros' World Series title, and (d) prating football would end. Since Martin is the only reasonably competent Texans starting offensive lineman returning from last season, this injury is inherently a big concern.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 8.02
WHITNEY MERCILUS, OLB (torn pectoral muscle)
Reportedly, Mercilus might have been able to go at the end of last season if the games had counted for anything but pride. I expect him to have a big season in 2018.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 1.24
COREY MOORE, S (sprained MCL)
Garden variety sprained MCL on a player who is backup depth, at best, now with the signing of Tyrann Mathieu. Low fear here.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 1.29
DEREK NEWTON, T/G (ruptured patellar tendons)
My fear is high that Newton will ever be able to play football at a decent level ever again, but I need to be reminded he is even on the team still, so that mitigates my fear. It's hard to have crazy "can he still play?" concern over a player that you forget is in the building.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 4.74
D.J. READER, DT (sprained knee)
Like Moore, another garden variety knee sprain, but on a much more important player — your starting nose tackle — hence, the higher fear factor score.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 2.68
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BRENNAN SCARLETT, OLB (foot)
I like Scarlett, but I like him better as a backup. With Mercilus returning and with Clowney manning the other OLB spot, that's what Scarlett will be heading into camp.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 1.80
DESHAUN WATSON, QB (torn ACL)
He's come back from this injury before, and he said in an interview on mar radio show last week, that the knee is doing great, but he is the most important employee in the building over at NRG Stadium, so even a hangnail has a floor FF score of, like, 2.55.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 3.47
J.J. WATT, DE (broken leg)
My fear is, after seeing multiple, catastrophic season ending injuries over the last three seasons, that we've seen the best of J.J. Watt. I'd sign up for 75 percent of the guy who won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 right now. I hope he makes me look like an idiot and wrecks shop this season, I like J.J. Watt, but eventually, the injuries win.
Fear Factor (1 to 10): 8.93
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